Well, I have finally been accused of “scientism.” Usually considered a derogatory label it is often used unjustly. After all, there a people who wish to discredit scientists and scientific findings because they these don’t support a product, or idea, they are selling. So it does come up as a defensive term in commercial, philosophical, religious and ideological promotion.
The dictionary meaning includes “the use of the scientific method of acquiring knowledge, whether in the traditional sciences or in other fields of enquiry.” But the derogatory meaning is “the belief that science alone can explain phenomena, or the application of scientific methods to fields unsuitable for it.”
Of course, I deny the charge. But then again the specific offence is often in the eyes of those using the label – as is obvious for those with commercial interests.
Ring fencing parts of reality
In this case the accuser (the author of the article The “god-of-the-gaps” argument at the NZ Christian Apologetics site Thinking Matters) presumably uses the label because he considers I advocate scientific investigations in areas he wishes to “ring fence” – to protect from science and allow only philosophical and theological explanations. He writes:
“How the universe literally came into being is widely recognised to be a matter beyond science, for in the singularity, all material things, including time itself, began to exist. . . . .the first cause of the origin of the universe will fall outside of the scientific endeavour. The formulation of Big Bang Cosmology creates a big “gap” for science, but a gap such as this has quite easily been filled by philosophers and theologians who expected it, for the cause of such an event can only be immaterial and timeless therefore changeless, uncaused and beginningless, enormously powerful and therefore a personal creator.
Second, The initial boundary conditions of the universe are themselves beyond the scope of science, and so one would expect explanations for these to also be outside science. “
Similarly he wishes to at least limit a role for science in “origins science” which he contrasts with “experimental” or laboratory science which is OK :
” Origin science deals with rare, often non-repeatable events and includes the study of history and forensic science. When the two branches of science are distinguished and it is obvious that researcher or investigator is operating with origin science, the gaps can assessed using Bayeseon formulae or the criteria for the best explanation.”
The “best explanation” approach is a common trick intelligent design (ID) proponents use to avoid experiential validation of the “design inferences.” And the “origin” or “historic” science label is a ploy creationist/ID proponents use for denying the huge amount of well accepted scientific knowledge in areas like evolution, origin of life, age of the earth and cosmology where it conflicts with their favourite myths.
As an aside let me say that these sort of distinctions between “historical” and “experimental” science are artificial as well as ideologically motivated. All science relies on evidence and experiential validation of hypotheses and theories. Of course the evidence of events in the distant past is sometimes difficult to find. That can make such research more difficult and there is more room for speculation (which the creationists try to take advantage of). However, past events usually do leave evidence we can recover in the present world.
The Christian apologists therefore argue that philosophy and theology have a special role in “historical” science and the origins of life and the universe. Of course there is philosophy and “philosophy” – and what they mean is a particular theistic, revelation-based, “philosophy” or theology. This is not a scientific philosophy – based on evidence and the epistemology of the scientific method. Nor does it have the ethos of honesty, full disclosure and anti-authoritarianism implicit in science (see Society’s fear of science).
Well scientists will only ignore this message from Thinking Matters. They will continue their research – including in the exciting areas of origin of life, evolution, cosmology, formation of matter and origin of the universe. They will also continue their important work on climate change – another area in which this author thinks science has a questionable role (see Global Warming a New Religion).
Of course, the real problem is not “scientism” – science not knowing its place – but a form of “religionism,”. theologyism” or “philosophism” – those religions, theologies and philosophies which don’t know their place. This is epitomised by creationism/ID which attempts to replace honest, evidence based and experientially validated scientific knowledge by bronze-age mythology.
Such religionism or philosophy is toxic – but fortunately this does not apply to all religion. Richard Dawkins recently interviewed Father George Coyne (a Catholic Priest and former Vatican astronomer) for his documentary The Genius of Darwin. The uncut video (below) of this interview has now been made available. I think Father Coyne gives good theological reasons why the “religionism” of the Christian apologists (like Thinking Matters) should be opposed.
Richard Dawkins interviews Father George Coyne (1/7)
Richard Dawkins interviews Father George Coyne (2/7)
Richard Dawkins interviews Father George Coyne (3/7)
Richard Dawkins interviews Father George Coyne (4/7)
Richard Dawkins interviews Father George Coyne (5/7)
Richard Dawkins interviews Father George Coyne (6/7)
Richard Dawkins interviews Father George Coyne (7/7)